God In the Every Day: Light
The Season of Lent
March 24, 2019
There is a reoccurring character on a television show we enjoy watching who is a traveling minister. His name on the series is Reverend Timothy Thomas but he is referred to as Reverend Tim Tom. One of Reverend Tim Tom’s nicknames is “The Roving Rev” because he is always moving from community to community helping to handle specific issues that arise from time to time.
Among the ongoing themes of the show is that one of the other main characters feels frustrated by Tim Tom’s travels. She appreciates Tim Tom as her minister. In turn, she wants him to stay put and to invest himself solely in their congregation and their community. Yet each and every time he makes an appearance in their town, Reverend Tim Tom always ultimately feels the tug to move on to somewhere else. In essence, Tim Tom illustrates someone who stops off at places of ministry and service, he doesn’t necessarily stay there for the long haul.
This morning, we come to the third I am statement that we are focusing on this Lenten season. It is found in John 8 and again it is one of the more well known of these statements in which Jesus says “I am the light of the world”.
As I have done the last two weeks with the statements “I am who I am” and “I am the bread of the life”, I want to put this statement of Jesus into contemporary language.
To remind you of where we have been, two weeks ago, we translated “I am who I am” as “I will be there”. Last week, we translated “I am the bread of life” as “I am enough”. Today, I want to suggest that another way of saying “I am the light of the world” is to hear Jesus say to us “I will guide you”.
At the same time, I also want to expand that statement by adding this – God’s guidance of us also often includes our understanding that God regularly calls us to see the places to which he guides us, in light of the previously mentioned Reverend Tim Tom, as possibly stopping places or staying places which again is to say places where we stop for a season or a short period or as places where we stay put for a long time. (This idea of stopping places and staying places in gleaned directly from Rob Fuquay in his book The God We Can Know, Upper Room, 2014, pg 39-54.)
I get this specifically from the context in which Jesus utters the profound statement. When Jesus says, “I am the light of the world” he does so in the midst of the celebration of the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles or Booths. This was an annual time of celebrating and remembering the forty years in which the Israelites wondered in the wilderness. The Festival of Tabernacles or Booths, or Sukkot as it is known today is still celebrated by Jewish people around the world.
During the days of the Exodus, the people never built permanent houses or structures. Instead, they lived in very simple, mobile dwellings like a modern tent. Regularly, if not daily, during those days, the people lived on the move. They never knew how long they were going to stay anywhere. And, further, they were guided in terms of knowing when to stay or when to go by God himself. You may remember that in those days God appeared to the people as a cloud by day and as a pillar of fire at night. When the cloud or the fire stopped, the people stopped. When the cloud or fire moved, the people moved. They were guided by God exclusively and again they never stayed anywhere very long. They were nomads, they lived life on the move always at the mercy of God’s guidance.
The Festival of Tabernacles remembers this time by having the people live for seven days in temporary dwellings as a way of reminding them of this unique period in the history of their people. Sleeping in tents for seven days called them to remember their ancestors’ life on the move and their utter dependence on God. It reminded them that life following God was a life of stopping off places for a day or staying places for a season. Their job was not to decide how long to stay or when to leave. Their job was simple to watch and to be ready to follow.
It was in the midst of this very Festival that Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” which was a way of saying that just as the people depended on and were led exclusively by God in their days in the wilderness, I desire to lead you in a similar way today.
I think this is an important word for us to hear and live into today. We need to be reminded that Jesus wants to guide us as our light. But, further, we need to be challenged as were the Jewish people that some times this guidance will call us to stop and sometimes it will call us to go.
This is the hard part. And, truthfully, we struggle with both sides of this equation. At times, we want God to say “go” and yet we experience the guidance of the Holy Spirit saying “no, not yet, stay here for a while longer. you are not finished in this place”.
At the other times, we want God to say “stay” and instead we hear God say “go”, “its time to move on to another spot, another work, another endeavor”.
The temptation here is real and it is great. Sometimes we want to run away from problems, people we don’t like and situations we can’t change when God clearly wants us to keep our tent in place for a while and continue to work. In these moments, when we want to go and God says stay, can we allow Jesus to be the light of our world and be the one who guides us? Just as often, we may like where we are. We have drawn a tight circle of friends and don’t have room to expand it. We like what we do for a living and don’t want to change. We love where we live and couldn’t imagine being somewhere else. Yet we sense God inviting us to pull up the stakes, pack up the tent and move. In such times, do we have the courage to allow Jesus to be our light and the one who guides us?
Again, the hardest part of all of this, I think, is to allow God to be the one who makes that decision rather than resisting God and the movement of the Holy Spirit by trying to make the decision ourselves. What is called for and demanded here is a life in tune with God, where through prayer, reflection, attentiveness to the Holy Spirit and life we allow God to have the last word.
In a previous church, there was a fellow named Gus who showed up one day out of the blue. Most of the folks in the church seemed to know Gus and they helped me to get to know him too. Gus really didn’t have a home, he just showed up there from time to time. No one ever knew how long he would stay. A week, the summer or only a few days but they all seemed genuinely glad to see him. Gus didn’t have a lot in terms of worldly possessions but he seemed to have enough. He wasn’t married, had no children and he traveled lite. He was smart, interesting to talk to and one of the freest spirits I have ever known. He had friends everywhere while never being attached to anywhere for too long. You might see him every day for two weeks and feel like he was settling in only to learn that he had left for a new destination, a new seasonal job, a new adventure.
Don’t hear me wrong. I am not saying that God is calling all of us to be like Gus. But, do hear me clearly that there are a lot of things in Gus’ way of living that are in keeping with following carefully and completely a God who sometimes says stay and a God who sometimes says go. And, do me hear me say, that there is something more spiritual and more authentic in Gus’ unusual life than in some of our own lives that are conformed more to the world than to God. Amen.